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Plans To Lure Commercial Jets To Global Transpark Meet Opposition

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KINSTON, N.C. — Plans to lure commercial jet service to the N.C. Global TransPark, where the runway officially opened last week, have rankled officials at neighboring airports in eastern North Carolina.

Jim Turcotte, manager of the Pitt/Greenville Airport, said area residents supported the original concept of the TransPark as an international manufacturing center that would accommodate large cargo planes.

But Turcotte said using state funds to run the facility as an industrial park with commercial air service is not fair to smaller airports.

Charles Edwards, the TransPark's acting executive director, argued that passenger service was necessary to attract companies to the complex. He said sniping by rival communities could harm the entire region.

The TransPark, with the state's longest commercial runway and one of the longest east of the Mississippi, was envisioned as an economic magnet when Gov. Jim Martin endorsed it in 1991. But 11 years later, it's often uncomfortably quiet on the tarmac, now used primarily by military aircraft in training.

The TransPark's runway was built to handle international air cargo and huge, fully loaded 747-400 cargo airplanes.

The project was meant to turn a small regional airport into a 15,000-acre complex that would produce 50,000 jobs over 25 years. The idea was to allow cargo planes to dock near manufacturing plants or warehouses.

Because companies would not have to maintain inventories of parts or goods, they could fly in raw materials, assemble them and fly them out. They could also use highways and rail lines.

Now the park consists of about 1,800 acres of airport property, 487 acres for development and 3,133 environmentally sensitive acres in a neighboring county purchased in exchange for damage to wetlands at the airfield itself.

State legislators have slashed money for the project and threatened to shut it down entirely. The budget for the current year was cut from $3.5 million to $1.6 million.

The proposal to develop commercial jet service, which is part of the transpark's business plan, has been vigorously promoted by Lenoir County's Committee of 100, a group of business and community leaders who use privately raised money to boost development.

Kinston attorney John Marshall, a spokesman for the committee, said the panel is discussing service with major airlines, which he delined to name. Nothing definite has been arranged, he said.

He said many in the Kinston area just want better air service with connections to major cities so that customers don't have to drive to Raleigh-Durham, about 75 miles from Kinston.

But John H. Price Jr., a member of the Craven County Regional Airport Authority in New Bern, said the service area outlined by the Lenoir County group takes in areas now served by airports at New Bern, Greenville and Jacksonville. He said those airports serve about 300,000 passengers a year.

"I just don't see a successful airline operation in Kinston," he said.

Marshall said local airports still would attract customers who don't want to drive long distances.

"We would be competing against RDU if we competed against anybody," he said.

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